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posted October 7, 2003

[October 2003] Landmark court case about the Dufferin Grove Park pit bull attack:

On September 8 in a provincial court room in Scarborough, there was an all-day court case: City of Toronto versus Wahid Bayan. The court met to decide on the fate of two pit bull dogs which were involved in a very serious dog fight at Dufferin Grove Park on June 30. The incident occurred after an hour's tense stand-off beforehand, during which some park regulars (one of whose dogs had been attacked but not wounded by the pit bulls), tried to get the police to come and deal with the pit bulls' apparently drunken and verbally abusive owner. The police, short-staffed because of a parade in another part of town, did not respond to repeated calls. After an hour the pit bulls' owner is alleged to have purposely let them off their leads. The dogs ran to the other dog walkers and one of the pit bulls attacked another one of their dogs (a German shepherd) and clamped his jaws on the dog's head. The German shepherd's owner, as he tried to protect his dog, himself had his clothes torn and got a puncture wound in his arm and later had to have two stitches. The German shepherd had an $850 vet bill because his ear was partly bitten off and had to be re-attached.

The pit bull owner, whom no one had ever seen in the park before and who appeared to be very drunk and very angry at the time of the attack, was arrested and spent almost two weeks in Don Jail before he got bail. He is facing the serious charge of assault with a weapon (i.e. his dogs), which could give him 5 years in prison. However, that criminal charge was not up for discussion on September 8. It was the animal trial concerning the dogs only. But the <b>crown prosecutor Ms.Randi Kurwoski</b> was laying the groundwork for the criminal trial. She underlined that even though no person was seriously hurt on June 30, if a child had been there with a dog, or if there had been a small woman trying to protect her dog, they might have been badly hurt or even killed. The prosecutor asked for the dogs to be destroyed, even though the usual practice of Animal Control is to issue a muzzle order the first time a dog attacks (and if damage to either the other dog or the person is not extensive.) But the crown pointed out that the lasting psychic trauma to both the dog and the people involved on that day (several people were forced to beat one dog with a shovel and an umbrella to get it to release the other dog's head) was great. And additionally, the crown argued, what could have happened was much worse.

The judge agreed, and ordered the dogs to be destroyed. This case underlines two important, perhaps new principles at Animal Control:

1. Zero tolerance to dog bites even if a first occurrence. The judge gave it as his opinion that once a dog has tasted blood, it will want to do so again and therefore it needs to be put down. And even the second dog, which did not bite, was seen as a sufficient threat that the judge felt it must also be destroyed.

2. The second important principle is: that the risk of what a dog might do is as important as the actual physical damage it might have inflicted. In this case the actual physical damage to a person required two stitches. But the economic harm was greater this dog owner missed 3 days of work, and had to pay $850 to the vet. The witnesses testified at this trial that the psychic damage to all involved was even greater. And the risk of physical harm from the two dogs if other, smaller people had been there, was seen as potentially catastrophic. Hence the judge's decision.

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